It's too chilly to exercise outside, but a counter-current pool can provide an excellent cardio and aerobic workout.
Counter-current swimming pools, also called swimming pools, therapy pools or exercise pools, allow you to swim in place and do water aerobics. They are also used for soothing arthritic joints.
For years, counter-current swimming pools were only found in hospitals, physical therapy clinics and sports centers. But since the mid-1990s, baby boomers have been purchasing them so they can work out in the privacy of their own homes.
The pools feature a 20-inch-wide and 20-inch-deep current of water that runs down the center of the pool, similar to the current in a river. The speed of the current, which is created with a paddle wheel or propeller, is adjustable to meet the needs and abilities for the user.
Because of their compact size, usually less than 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, counter-current swimming pools can be installed inside.
Chris Wackman, senior vice president of sales for Endless Pools in Aston, Pennsylvania, said they can be installed in-ground, above-ground or partially above-ground by a do-it-yourselfer or general contractor.
"Owners have installed them in basements, sun rooms, green-houses, on patios, decks or in new additions. The spas can be finished off as simply or elaborately as you wish," said Wackman.
Two years ago, Barbara Smith of Glenmont, N.Y., built an addition to her home for a 7-by-14-foot Endless Pool.
"My son sent me a video about Endless Pools because I have arthritis and can't take a lot of non-steroidal medications," said Smith, who is semi-retired and works part time as an educator.
"I have always loved to swim, but no matter how good my intentions were, getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the YMCA just didn't work for me," she said. Especially in winter.
Smith's pool includes a 5-foot-square, 6-foot-deep center so she can aqua-jog and do cross-county skiing motions.
"My pool has been a wonderful help in building up my strength," Smith added. "I'm 66, and swimming gets to my shoulders after 20 minutes or so, and then I switch to aerobics. Water is extremely friendly to the body."
Counter-current swimming pools generally cost from $18,000 to $36,000 (including shipping), depending on size and extras. Then there is the cost of an electrician and plumber, if you are not a do-it-yourselfer.
The smallest Endless Pool has a swimming area 7 feet wide by 14 feet long and 39 inches deep (the standard depth of a lap pool.) It can be customized to 78 inches deep for standing exercises.
The pools can be as large as 10 feet by 20 feet and have two swimming channels.
"A 7-by-14-foot pool holds 2,500 to 3,800 gallons of water, compared to a standard pool which holds 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of water," said Wackman. "There is an environmental savings right there. Because they use less water, they cost less to heat than a standard-size swimming pool, making them popular for year-round use."
The pools also usually require less chlorine than a standard pool. You only need one part per million, compared to three parts per million for a regular swimming pool. If your (counter-current) pool is inside, you can sanitize the water with household bleach.
Wackman said that Endless Pools offers an optional cover to keep debris out, heat in and reduce evaporation. It can also hold up to 300 pounds.
"People have used the covered pool as a heated waterbed when they have extra house guests," said Wackman, laughing.
While most standard units come with everything you need to swim, owners frequently change dimensions, add jets, lights, handrails and stairs. A pool can be designed so that one person can swim against the current while another can stand at a deeper end doing aerobic exercises or sit on a built-in seat and relax.
Endless Pools are sold as kits that fit through a standard 30-inch doorway.
This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.